The snowbanks along my suburban driveway resemble the foothills of western Maine — a sure sign that this winter, as opposed to the last one, we have plenty of snow.

While all the snow on the ice of lakes and ponds has created a layer of slush impeding snowmobile travel on waterways, the deep snow provides ideal snowshoeing conditions.

Snowshoeing opens a window to another world. Trails, forests and fields that seem so familiar spring through fall take on a totally different look, feel and sound in the winter. If you’ve never tried it, this winter is the ideal time to do so. And if you can walk, you can snowshoe.

The sport is relatively inexpensive. Prices for various models can range from $50 to $300. Choose a snowshoe based on your weight and the terrain you expect to walk. Snowshoes are loosely categorized into three groups — recreational, hiking and back-country or technical.

Recreational shoes are best for flatter terrain and shorter hikes. These would be used on trails and packed snow surfaces and are good for beginners.

Hiking snowshoes can be used on a variety of terrain from flat to steep. They work well off-trail in lighter, powdery snow better than recreational shoes. They also have a type of cleat or claw that allows snowshoes to grip steeper, icier terrain. Back-country shoes offer a few more extras, can accommodate a wider variety of footwear, and of course, are more expensive.

If you are selecting snowshoes for the first time, it is worthwhile to go to an outdoor store where you can be fitted for the proper type for the terrain you’re targeting.

Don’t kid yourself about your weight when choosing snowshoes. The basic idea is to float on top of the snow. If you select shoes designed for a lighter person, you are in for a lot more work, because with each step, you will sink deeper than you should into the snow. Also take into account any gear you might carry, such as a backpack, since this will add to your weight.

Once you have selected your shoes, get home and try them outside. Practice getting them on and off, make sure the bindings fit your boots properly and get the hang of walking in a wider gait to accommodate your snowshoes’ width.

If you are wondering where to go, once you are comfortable with your snowshoes, I would suggest one of your favorite hiking trails.

North of the Portland area, two great areas for snowshoeing are Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal and Wolfe’s Neck State Park in Freeport. Both have a variety of well-marked trails and are open for winter use. Don’t forget to pay your entrance fee, either to park staff or by placing it in the iron ranger.

The trail system at Wolfe’s Neck features shore-side vistas of Casco Bay, with a mix of ducks and the occasional bald eagle scanning the open waters from above.

If you are climbing with snowshoes for the first time, Bradbury is a good choice, because it is a short hike to the top and there are several trails for a range of abilities.

Another gem for those who enjoy a winter walk is the Cathance River Nature Preserve off Route 196 in Topsham. The Cathance River slices through the preserve, dropping over some impressive falls on its way to Merrymeeting Bay. The ice formations around the falls can be spectacular.

One other joy of snowshoeing is identifying wildlife tracks. Venture out after a light dusting of snow, and you will see a variety of animal and bird tracks. There are excellent field guides for identifying animal tracks available at bookstores.

One key in identifying animal tracks is habitat. While many tracks may look the same or have similar patterns, where you find the tracks may be the key to identifying just what type they are. For instance, fishers and otters have very similar tracks, but very different habitats. If you were to see a picture of these tracks, they would be difficult to tell apart. However, while snowshoeing through an upland forest you would know it was a fisher track, and along a riverbank, it would be otter.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that the town plow has added to the snowbanks, make sure you take some time between shoveling to head out and actually enjoy all of this winter’s snow.

Mark Latti is a former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a registered Maine Guide. He can be reached at:

[email protected]